Sai Baba (of Shirdi)
Sai Baba (of Shirdi)
It is not known when Sai Baba was born, where he came from, or who his parents were. The term Sai Baba means simply, Saintly Father. He appeared in Shirdi, which is a little village in India, at about the age of sixteen, and stayed there till the end of his physical life in 1918.
Between the years of his appearance at Shirdi, and his transition, his life was an extraordinary succession of miracles and deep communion with his pupils. Like Ramana, he had no need to enter a trance to experience the Unconditional state, but was constantly aware of all things. Through this he would often describe a stranger’s whole life in detail.
One day a lady asked Sai Baba to come and eat with her. Having prepared special dishes with all her love and capability, she was horrified to see a stray dog just about to eat from the table. She drove it away and left to tell Sai Baba the meal was ready. When she asked him to come he said, “No, you drove me away when I wanted it; now I don’t want it.”
Curing the sick and childless in miraculous ways happened constantly. One old man, grandfather of a pupil, when led before Sai Baba bowed and said, “Baba, I can’t see.” “You will,” Sai Baba replied. He laid his hands on the old man’s head and he could immediately see.
He would, and still does, appear to people in their dreams, either requesting them to visit him at Shirdi, or giving them spiritual instruction. Often these people had never seen or heard of him before, yet came under his influence. As his consciousness had realised its timeless eternal nature, he is still as powerful to help those who turn to him today, as he ever was in his physical body. But the Master, whether in the body or out of it, demands something of us—namely surrender of self to his divine will. Very often, in curing people, he would ask them to let go of their prejudices or self-will. One colourful illustration of this is the experience of Dada Kelkar. Being a strict Brahmin he would not touch onions. Not only this, he hated the sight of them. Having visited Shirdi with a party of people, Dada became enraged when one lady began to cut up onions for her meal. This very much upset the woman. Some hours later Dada’s granddaughter developed a pain in her eyes, and began to cry. Dada immediately went to Sai Baba and asked him to cure it. Sai Baba, who knew nothing of the argument, told him to rub the girl’s eyes with onion. When he asked where he could get the onion from, Sai Baba pointed to the woman he had argued with.
To Sai Baba, however, his miracles were only a means of developing trust and faith in people. He said, “I give people what they want in the hope that they will begin to want what I want to give them.” These other gifts, were of the Spirit. Mrs Manager, one of his devotees, says of him;” One’s first impression of Sai Baba was of his eyes. There was such a power and penetration in his gaze that no one could long look him in the eyes. One felt that he was reading one through and through. Soon one lowered one’s eyes and bowed down. One felt that he was not only in one’s heart but in every atom of one’s body. A few words or a gesture would reveal to one that Sai Baba knew all about the past and present and even the future and about everything else. There was nothing else to do but to submit trustfully and surrender oneself to him.”
As one was not bowing down to a man, but to the divine acting through a man, one was thus relating to God. Sai Baba said, “I shall remain active and vigorous even after leaving this earthly body. I am ever living to help those who come to me and surrender, and seek refuge in me. If you cast your burden on me I will bear it.”
Turning to Sai Baba, there is little in English of his teachings, but his conversation with a disciple named Nana is a magnificent example of his insight. Nana was massaging his master’s legs, chanting a Sanscrit verse from the Bhagavad Gita. Sai Baba asked him to repeat it aloud. It was “Know that by means of prostration, enquiry and service the Jnanis (Enlightened) who have realised the Truth will teach you Jnana (Knowledge).
“Do you understand this Nana?” Baba asked him.
“Then tell me the meaning.”
Nana gave a free rendering in the vernacular but Sai Baba was not satisfied. “I don’t want a paraphrase; I want the strict grammatical meaning with case, mood and tense.”
Nana gave a literal translation, wondering the while whether Baba knew anything of Sanskrit grammar. He soon found out.
“In tatviddhi, what does tat stand for?” Baba asked him.
“What knowledge? Knowledge of what?”
“The knowledge referred to in the previous stanzas.”
“What does pranipat mean?”
“If they meant the same would Vyasa have added two unnecessary syllables?”
“I don’t see any difference between them.” Nana admitted.
Baba left that for a while and passed on to the next point. “What does prasna mean?”
“Then if they both mean the same was Vyasa off his head to use the longer?”
“I don’t see any difference.”
“Next point. What does seva mean?”
“Service, such as I am now doing massaging your feet.”
“I don’t see what more it can mean.”
“We’ll leave that too! Next point. Krishna tells Arjuna to get Enlightenment from the Enlightened (Jnanis). Wasn’t Krishna himself a Jnani?”
“Then why does he send Arjuna to others instead of giving him Jnana himself?”
“I don’t know.”
“Wasn’t Arjuna a jiva (being) and therefore an emanation of Chaitanya (universal consciousness—Self)”
“Then how can knowledge be given to what is already an emanation of Self or knowledge?”
Then Sai Baba explained: “The verse tells us how a disciple is to approach his Guru in order to attain Realisation. He must completely surrender body, mind, soul and possessions to the Guru. That is the prostration referred to. The enquiry must be a constant quest for Truth, not questions asked out of mere curiosity or for a wrong motive, such as to trap the Guru. The motive must be pure desire for spiritual progress and Realisation. Then the service is not mere physical service such as massaging. For it to be effective there must be no idea that you are free to give or withhold service; you must feel that your body no longer belongs to you since you have surrendered it to the Guru and it exists only to do him service.”
Then followed questions to which Nana replied ‘Yes’ in each case.
“Isn’t Brahma pure Knowledge or Being and everything else non-Being or ignorance (absence of knowledge)?”
“Do not the scriptures declare that Brahma (God) is beyond the range of speech or mind? So the speech of the Guru is not Brahma or Knowledge. Then you admit that what the Guru says is not Knowledge but ignorance?”
“It seems so.”
“Then the Guru’s instruction is simply a piece of ignorance used to remove the disciples ignorance, just as we use a thorn to remove another thorn from the foot, isn’t it?”
“I suppose so.”
“The disciple is a being whose essential nature is Knowledge, isn’t he?”
“Then there is no need to give him knowledge but simply to remove the veil of ignorance that hides the existent Knowledge. This, of course, is not to be done at one stroke, since the disciple is immersed in age-old ignorance and needs repeated instruction, perhaps through life after life. And what is this instruction through speech about what is beyond speech? Isn’t it like removing the cover? Ignorance conceals the pre-existent Knowledge just as water plants cover the surface of a pond. Clear away the plants and you have the water. You don’t have to create it; it is already there. Or take another example—a cataract grows on the eye and prevents a man from seeing; remove the cataract and he sees. Ignorance is the cataract. The universe is the efflorescence of the indescribable Maya, which is ignorance; yet ignorance is needed to illuminate and dissolve ignorance … Jnana is not something to be attained, it is eternal and self-existent. On the other hand, ignorance has a cause and an end. The root of it is the idea that the devotee is a separate being from God. Remove this, and what remains is Jnana.”